More Than 50 British Intellectuals Say to Prime Minister David Cameron: “Britain is Not a ‘Christian Country'”

Twice over the past two weeks, British Prime Minister David Cameron has made statements that, while strange to hear overseas, wouldn’t be out of place in the Tea Party:

Some people feel that in this ever more secular age we shouldn’t talk about these things. I completely disagree. I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.

Well, that’s what the faith does in theory. We’ve seen plenty of awful examples of how that plays out in real life. In any case, his statements are very dismissive of non-Christians in the country, who also support action over words. It might make sense for a preacher to say those things, but not a politician who leads everybody.

Now, a group of more than 50 Nobel Laureates, philosophers, authors, and others have signed an open letter, published in The Telegraph, urging Cameron to rethink that stance:

We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they necessarily affect his own life as a politician. However, we object to his characterisation of Britain as a “Christian country” and the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders.

Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a “Christian country”. Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.

At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society.

Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government

The letter was organized by British Humanist Association President Jim Al-Khalili.

Will it have any effect? For the Prime Minister, probably not. But to the general public, the weight of the signatories could be pretty powerful. The reception so far has been fairly positive.

(Image via Frederic Legrand / Shutterstock.com)

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